Beads are tiny beautiful pieces designed for jewelry – most commonly, handmade jewelry. You can purchase them individually or in large amounts and come up with your own jewelry designs. There comes in all kinds of shapes and designs, so you have lots of variety in terms of creating jewelry. Some of them are threaded on strings, while others become actual jewelry. They can be tiny and almost impossible to see or chunky and large.
In terms of classification, each type of bead is based on more criteria. For example, you could shop for beads by materials, origins, fashion trends, manufacturing processes, shapes or patterns and textures. All in all, no one really cares about these classifications. In fact, types of beads are classified from a general point of view. Here are some of the most popular types out there, as well as their unique characteristics and uses.
Most Common Type Of Bead – Crystal beads
Crystal beads are usually based on glass – they also come with a certain percentage of lead, up to about 30%. The amount of lead in their composition is usually responsible for the refractive properties of the beads.
With these ideas in mind, Swarovsky crystal beads are some of the ultimate ideas out there. Initially, they were made in Austria, but they gained notoriety worldwide due to their quality standards. They come in over 50 colors and dozens of different effects. They can be used as actual jewelry or embellishments. Rhinestones are part of the same category and they are just as attractive.
Common Types Of Beads – Seed Beads / Glass Beads
Seed beads are extremely popular too. They are usually made of glass and they come in more sizes and shapes – you will usually find small beads though. Some of them are clear, while others are iridescent. You might as well find silver lined beads. Based on their properties, they are more common in the jewelry industry, as well as needle work.
3X beads can also be classified as seed beads. They feature a few different facets, which add to their extra glitter and sparkling properties.
Roundel Beads For Bead Embroidery
Roundel beads are not too popular when it comes to their actual names. You may go to a store and ask for roundel beads and get a negative answer – even if they actually have it. These beads are easy to identify through because they look like actual donuts. They are relatively small and their role is well defined – but not general.
Most people rely on roundel beads as spacers between larger types of beads. Furthermore, you can also find glass roundel beads – known as roundelle beads – that feature more faces. Some of them can be smooth too.
Drop beads have a self-explanatory name and their shapes vary a little, but they follow the same general rule. They are usually designed like raindrops. On the same note, some of them are a bit round, so they look like pears.
While not a general rule, many of them have holes through their beads – usually by the narrow end. This type of design makes them hang a little when used on a string though, so use your imagination for something to stand out.
Lampwork beads – Types of glass beads
Lampwork beads are most commonly handcrafted and they make the difference through their unique and attractive looks. They are categorized as glass beads because they are made from glass. Such crystal beads are made by melting glass of different colors with a torch.
Lampwork beads are made to last, but the process is quite daunting, which keeps their prices higher than average. If you can see multiple patterns or colors, it means the manufacturer has melted glass in different colors.
Acrylic beads are made of plastic. They come in all shapes and sizes you can think of. They can be used as the main beads in a jewelry design, but they are also common as spacer beads – it depends on the shape, size, color and design. Some of them are flat, while others feature round, tube or oval designs.
Generally speaking, acrylic beads are lightweight and will not put too much pressure on your jewelry designs. Some of their colors draw more attention than other – gunmetal, copper or metallic silver.
Wood beads are like wood bracelets. They are not that common, which is exactly what makes them look so good. They are usually made from softwoods to allow an easy production, but they feel pretty durable and will most likely last for ages.
Oval, square or round shaped beads are among the most common options in wood. They provide a vintage and more traditional look, but they may also look a bit rough – since they are not as smooth as glass bead, for example.
Cultured pearls are fine and look great. They are natural – as in they come from farmed mussels. Some of them come from freshwater, while others are based on saltwater. Most people do not care about it. All in all, the category includes all pearls out there – South Sea, Tahitian and Akoya pearls, just to name a few.
Saltwater pearls are considered to be more valuable and beautiful than freshwater alternatives. But then, the freshwater pearl has a more affordable price. This is what makes it so popular – plus, the difference in appearance is not that high.
Sequins might represent the most diversified type of bead out there. They are used in jewelry, as well as other handmade projects. They can be used as embellishments on all kinds of projects – you might as well stitch them to your clothes, hats and backpacks.
Sequins are available in any shape and color you can think of. Different sizes are just as diversified. When it comes to shapes, they are usually round and designed like bowls. Their holes go through the middle parts. Some others are perfectly flat.
While part of the same category, paillettes are different. They are quite large and their holes are by the edge, so they hang.
Rhinestones are also referred to as glass beads or crystal beads. They feature holes for strings to go through – easy to attach to bracelets or even clothes. Some rhinestones can be glued, but it is not the most durable option out there.
As for the actual design, they feature more facets and can reflect light like diamonds.
Cylinder beads are designed like tubes. Their holes are larger than average and cross through the whole length of the unit. They are often used as spacer beads. They can be made of more materials and feature all kinds of colors.
In some stores, you may find cylinder beads referred to as Delica or Toho beads.
Bugle beads also go with glass beads because they are based on the same material. They are usually long and similar to cylinder beads. In terms of design, they could be plain or sparkling. The more sparkling beads feature up to six sides. The smooth ones are more elegant and adopt a simplistic appearance.
Bugle beads can be relatively small – just a couple of millimeters – or up to 40 millimeters.
Bali beads carry their name from their manufacturing location. They are most commonly made in Bali, Indonesia. They feature beautiful designs, patterns and textures. They are usually silver in design and they will make the difference. Since too many of them would look like too much, they are most commonly used as spacer beads.
Bali beads are usually handmade. Given their popularity, you will find beads made in other parts of the world too – yet they carry the same name and characteristics.
Faceted beads come with more than just a couple of facets. In fact, they feature facets on all sides. The light can go in through each side and it will reflect through all the other sides. Therefore, faceted beads tend to be quite luminous.
The amount of facets will also categorize them in subcategories. For instance, hex beads feature six facets.
Pony beads might represent the cheapest type of bead on the market. They are medium or large in size. They are also made in plastic and come in plain colors – no shades sparkling or other effects. They are mostly recommended to children trying to find a new hobby or gaining experience with handmade jewelry.
You can buy pony heads in single colors or in mixed sets. Most of them are around four millimeters in size – relatively large.
Just like wood beads, ceramic beads may seem a bit rough because they cannot be perfectly smooth. When done correctly, they will still display small imperfections. In other words, they are not suitable for fancy and expensive pieces of jewelry – instead, they are more appropriate for vintage and cultural handmade designs.
Ceramic beads feature numerous shapes and sizes, as well as colors. Some of them come with tiny holes, while others are tubular. They might come in plain colors or various designs.
Semi Precious Beads
Semi precious beads are based on semi precious stones and gems. They are pretty diversified – the type is not always relevant, as long as you get the optimal color. Then, there are situations when the color makes no difference. If you are after the metaphysical properties of such gems, opt for the ones suitable for your lifestyle and goals and ignore the color.
Semi precious beads come with various prices based on the actual stones – uvarovite, pyrope, almandine, spessarite, grossularite and andradite, only to name a few.
Costume pearls are similar to pearl beads, only they are fake. They are often based on plastic, so they come by more names – imitation pearls, faux pearls and so on. Apart from plastic, they could be made of glass too. The coating is similar to the surface of a pearl.
Obviously, they feature a few differences when compared to natural pearls. They do not have that deep color or the depth associated with pearls. They are not as beautiful. But then, they are lightweight, cheap and quite common.
Metal beads are beautiful and can stand out. They are based on more materials, but many of them will lose their color or coating overtime. With this aspect in mind, you might want to consider silver, which will retain its shininess overtime. Look for the sterling silver marking to ensure a good final result.
Charlotte beads are practically seed beads, but they have one unusual characteristic. They feature a flat surface. The respective surface is cut into them and looks distinctive – it simply cannot be confused with other cuts on different bead types.
Frequently asked questions
Still undecided about the best type of bead for your project?
What are flat beads called?
More types of beads have at least a flat surface, so categories can be a bit diversified. Most commonly, Charlotte beads are advertised to be flat beads, as well as Czech glass bead. They come with one or two small facets cut into their sides.
What are the tiny beads called?
Seed beads are some of the tiniest beads on the market. They are made by more manufacturers – some of them more famous than others. The largest size is 1, while the smallest one is 24. They also feature most shapes, with the rocaille design being the most popular one – it is round bead. Other common shapes include bugle, hexagon, drop, triangle or square.
What are beads used for?
The purpose of beads has changed over the past centuries. Hundreds of years ago, they were used for trade and communication. These days, they are more common in jewelry, artworks and embroidery.
What are beads?
A bead is a decorative object available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Materials vary from glass and wood to pearl, shell, bone and stone. Sizes go between a millimeter and over a centimeter.
Bottom line, deciding on the right type of bead can be a bit challenging. There are loads of options out there, whether it comes to the material, design, looks, size and so on. What really makes the difference is your actual project.
What kind of artwork are you interested in?
What are you hoping to achieve?
Becoming familiar with the type of beads and their uses will certainly help. But at the end of the day, your imagination is your main concern.